Deaths from liver disease have risen sharply in the U.S., and doctors say the biggest factor is drinking —especially among young adults.
A study published Wednesday found a 65 percent increase in deaths from cirrhosis of the liver since 1999. The biggest increase is among millennials: the team found that deaths from cirrhosis are rising 10 percent a year among people aged 25 to 34.
People so young might not even realize that they can drink themselves to death so quickly, but they can, said liver specialist Dr. Haripriya Maddur of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
“Surprisingly, it only takes about 10 years of heavy drinking to actually lead to cirrhosis,” said Maddur, who was not involved in the study.
“So when people start drinking in college and they start binge drinking, that can actually lead to end-stage liver disease at a much earlier age,” Maddur told NBC News.
For the study, Dr. Elliot Tapper and Dr. Neehar Parikh at the University of Michigan and the Veterans Affairs hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, looked at federal data taken from death certificates and the U.S. Census Bureau.
“From 1999 to 2016 in the U.S., annual deaths from cirrhosis increased by 65 percent, to 34,174, while annual deaths from hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) doubled to 11,073,” they wrote in their report, published in the British Medical Journal.
Earlier this week, the National Center for Health Statistics reported a 43 percent increase in death rates from liver cancer between 2000 and 2015. The increase made liver cancer the sixth-leading cause of cancer death in 2016, up from the ninth-leading cause in 2000.
The biggest increase was among baby boomers, people aged 55 to 64. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hepatitis B and C are most likely a major cause of liver cancer in this older age group.
“Unfortunately, many people are unaware they are infected with viral hepatitis since the disease often causes no symptoms,” the CDC says. “For reasons that are not entirely understood, people born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups.”
There’s a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B, and drugs can cure most cases of hepatitis C.
Obesity and drinking too much alcohol can also cause liver cancer, as well as liver cirrhosis, and those two factors seem to be driving the rise in deaths among younger adults.
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